University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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Freshman Success Reports

In The View from the OEP on July 27, 2022 at 11:51 am

As educators are ramping up for the new school year, OEP wanted to share some district-level information about the success of high school freshman. Today, we sent a custom Freshman Success Analysis to each superintendent. The short report reveals if the district’s ninth graders were more or less likely to pass all their freshman courses than similar freshman in the average Arkansas district.

As you can see in the sample report above, we included the passing likelihood for three groups: all freshmen, economically disadvantaged freshmen, and white economically disadvantaged freshmen. We selected these groups because our statewide analysis identified that economically disadvantaged students were 9 percentage points less likely to pass all their freshman courses than their more advantaged peers with similar prior academic achievement. The likelihood of success was the worst for White economically disadvantaged, who were 13 percentage points less likely to pass all their freshman courses than their white non-economically disadvantaged peers with similar prior academic performance.

We were surprised to find such large differences in the likelihood of success between students who are similar in academic ability. To make the data understandable, we provide the relative likelihood of success (well above average to well below average) for these groups for the district, the region, and the state as a whole.

We know students enter high school with different academic skills, so when we predict the likelihood of a student passing all their courses, we statistically control for the student’s prior academic achievement from 7th and 8th grade ACT Aspire Math and ELA scores. We also factor in student demographic and programmatic characteristics. as well as district characteristics like size and percent of students that economically disadvantaged. In this way we can measure the differences in success between very similar students in each district. We know freshman year GPA is an important predictor for high school graduation and college enrollment, and we want to help all students have access to future opportunities.

The Freshman Success Analysis also includes:

  • the top 10 courses that freshman in the district were most likely to fail, and
  • failure rates by student demographic and programmatic characteristics.

This may be helpful descriptive information, but keep in mind that unlike the likelihood of success indicators,these rates do not control for students’ prior academic achievement.


If you are concerned about the information contained in your district’s Freshman Success Analysis, we recommend that you take the following steps:

  • Evaluate what freshman grading looks like in your district/school
  • Evaluate your district/school’s support systems in place freshman year and beyond

If you are concerned about inequities in freshman grading, reach out to OEP! We want to work with you to help implement and monitor changes. Policies that can help include enacting a “no-zero” and minimum grading policy and forming mentor relationships with students (more suggestions found here and from our ADE Summit presentation).

If you would like to discuss this further or just have questions, we are here to help. Please send us an email at oep@uark.edu.

Arkansas Teacher Turnover During the First Two Years of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In The View from the OEP on June 21, 2022 at 12:23 pm

This blog post and the research it summarizes was authored by Andrew Camp, Gema Zamarro & Josh McGee.

This summer, teachers across Arkansas will take a much-needed break to recharge after another difficult year. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have faced the unprecedented and unexpected challenges of remote learning, preventing the spread of COVID-19, and dealing with students’ absences due to quarantines and illness.

Throughout these unusual times, teachers have reported much higher levels of stress and a higher proportion of teachers report that they have considered leaving the profession. The increased stress that the pandemic has put on school personnel has sparked fears about a potential exodus of teachers and an increase in teacher shortages. Teachers are among the largest school-based contributors to students’ academic success and turnover is both costly for districts and harmful to students’ academic progress. As students face unprecedented learning losses, an increase in teacher turnover might also seriously hinder attempts at recovery.

In our prior research, we found that teachers were more likely to report that they have considered leaving their position or retiring if they are approaching retirement age, had to change instructional modes during the academic year, have higher COVID-19-related health concerns, or report high levels of job-related burnout. However, teachers who consider leaving may not ultimately leave.

So, are teachers leaving the classroom more than before the pandemic?

In our new report, we explore changes in Arkansan teachers’ mobility and attrition two years into the COVID-19 pandemic. Arkansas is an especially interesting context as districts in the state were required to offer in-person learning five days per week.

Like similar analyses from Washington and Massachusetts, we find stable turnover rates during the first year of the pandemic (2020-2021) but a 2.2 percentage point increase in teacher mobility and attrition in the second year (2021-2022).

Turnover, which we define as a teacher either moving schools or exiting the Arkansas teacher workforce entirely, did not change uniformly across the state. While all regions experienced increased turnover entering the pandemic’s second academic year (2021-22). Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest Arkansas saw the highest increases in teacher turnover. This is especially worrisome for districts in the Southeast and Southwest as many districts already experienced teacher shortages before the pandemic and tend to serve students from higher-poverty backgrounds. We also observed increased turnover due to transfers across schools in Northwest Arkansas during the first pandemic academic year.

Our prior research found that teachers approaching retirement age (55 or older) were more likely to report having considered leaving or retiring in a national survey from March 2021. When examining Arkansas, we find that the proportion of these teachers exiting the Arkansas teacher workforce increased by about 2 percentage points entering the 2020-21 academic year. Increased turnover among the most experienced teachers could have important consequences for Arkansas’s teacher quality, which may in turn impact student academic outcomes during the pandemic recovery.

We also study the retention and attrition patterns of beginning teachers who started their careers during the pandemic and likely envisioned a very different experience. While the proportion of these beginning teachers who exit the profession did not increase during the pandemic, we do observe a nearly 5 percentage point increase in the proportion of new teachers who move across schools or districts entering the 2021-22 academic year.

Increasing the diversity of the Arkansas teacher labor force is of great concern given the documented benefits that prior research has shown for racially minoritized students. For this reason, we also examine the retention of Black teachers during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, the retention rate for Black teachers was 5 percentage points lower than teachers overall, although the gap between white and Black teachers was statistically insignificant once we controlled for teacher and school characteristics. During the pandemic, however, this gap has dramatically increased, with a larger number of  Black teachers now exiting the Arkansas teacher workforce.

We observe that during the pandemic retention of Black teachers in the same school decreased from about 75% in pre-pandemic academic years to 71% in the first pandemic year and 68% in the second pandemic year. This is in contrast with overall retention rates of about 80% pre-pandemic and during the first pandemic academic year and 78% during the second year of the pandemic. That represents a difference in retention rates for Black teachers of 10 percentage points in the second year of the pandemic.

We further analyze changes in teacher retention and exits using statistical logit and multinomial logit models. These models, which allow us to control for multiple factors and compare similar teachers who teach at comparable schools, confirm that as the pandemic has progressed, Black teachers have become more likely to exit the profession compared to white teachers. Black teachers became 3 percentage points less likely to remain in the same school than white teachers in the first pandemic year and 4 percentage points less likely in the second year. These results raise serious concerns about a potential reduction in the diversity of the Arkansas teacher labor force.

Our statistical models also reveal other changes in retention during COVID. Before the pandemic, teachers in more disadvantaged schools were retained less than teachers in advantaged schools. Compared to a school where none of the students qualify for the Free or Reduced-priced Lunch Program (FRL), a school where 50 percent of the students qualify can expect about a one percentage point decrease in the probability of teachers remaining at that school in the subsequent year. During the pandemic, however, this relationship has nearly tripled in magnitude. Now, a fifty-percentage point increase in the proportion of FRL students at a school corresponds to a 2.5-3 percentage point decrease in retention.

Finally, and in line with our prior research, having to change learning modes during the school year was associated with about a 4-percentage point reduction in teacher retention. This reduction seems to be evenly driven by teachers transferring to another school or exiting the Arkansas teacher workforce altogether.

What does this mean for Arkansas teachers, schools, and students?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for many but especially for teachers who had to adapt to new ways of instruction, challenging working conditions, and health concerns when returning to in-person learning. Early research documented high levels of teacher stress and burnout and an increase in the proportion who considered leaving their positions, raising concerns about a potential surge in teacher turnover and future teacher shortages.

While we do not observe the mass exodus of teachers that some warned about in popular media, the 2 percentage points increase in turnover we find raises concerns about potential instability in the Arkansas teacher labor force, given the relatively high pre-pandemic turnover rates in the state and documented shortages in school districts in the Lower Delta region (Southeast), Southwest, and Upper Delta regions (Northeast).

Our results show that teacher retention decreased during the pandemic, especially for schools in the Southeast and Southwest, as well as for schools with higher proportions of students eligible for FRL, which could put a strain on those schools already experiencing teacher shortages. In future research, we will further study the challenges facing these schools and the use of emergency teacher licenses, long-term subs, and teachers who are not fully certified to cover vacancies in these areas.

Our results also raise concerns about a potential reduction in the diversity of the Arkansas teacher workforce. We observe a significant decline in the retention of Black teachers during the pandemic, which could negatively affect students’ outcomes. Finding ways to support and better retain racially minoritized teachers in the state should be a high priority.

Finally, our results show that teachers who worked in a district that changed learning models during the 2020-2021 academic year were less likely to be retained at the same school the next academic year. Finding ways to facilitate a supportive work environment and adopting mitigation measures when needed could help reduce changes in learning modes and help retain teachers during this pandemic. In this respect, research indicates that schools with strong communication, targeted training, meaningful collaboration, fair expectations, and authentic recognition for their teachers were more successful at maintaining teachers’ sense of success.

Moving forward, it will be important to continue monitoring the pandemic’s effects on the Arkansas teacher labor force and find ways to better support teachers and schools, especially in those areas most affected by teacher shortages.

It’s Time to Address the “F”

In The View from the OEP on May 25, 2022 at 11:10 am

As report cards are being sent home this time of year, we thought it was a good time to talk about course failure.

Over the past 10 years, high school freshman course failure rates have declined, but more than 1 in 5 students still fail a course in 9th grade. We have shared our earlier research on the statistically significant relationship between high school freshmen GPAs and high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. This led us to dig into the data, and find out which courses kids are failing, and which types of students are the most likely to fail.  We spent this spring semester analyzing ten different cohorts of Arkansas freshmen and from 2010-2019 to explore these three questions. You can read the whole paper or the shorter policy brief, but in this blog we will hit the highlights of what we found.

In 2018-19, the most recent year of data analyzed, we find that 22 percent of Arkansas high school freshman failed at least one course.

The demographic and programmatic characteristics of our Arkansas freshmen sample are below:

Male50.8%Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL)59.1%
White62.0%Gifted and Talented (GT)13.1%
Black19.2%English Language Learners (ELL)6.8%
Hispanic13.1%Special Education (SPED)11.6%
Other Races5.8%Total N35,180

And these groups of students have failure rates with respect to the average that look like this:

As you can see, freshmen demographic and programmatic groups with failure rates higher than average are Black, free-or-reduced lunch (FRL, our proxy for economically disadvantaged), English Language Learners (ELL), male, students receiving special education services (SPED), and Hispanic students. Black students have a failure rate almost 13 percentage points higher than the statewide average.

We then considered these failure rates might be different across the geographic regions of Arkansas. The failure rates by gender and race/ethnicity by region are are similar to statewide rates, but we find unexpected variation among the programmatic course failure averages by geographic region:

Overall, the Northwest region has the lowest failure rate at 18.7 percent, and the Southeast region has the highest failure rate at 28.5 percent. Among programmatic groups however, the FRL, GT, and ELL status course failure percentages are the highest in the Central region. Freshman students in the Central region that participate in the FRL program, or receive ELL or GT program services are more likely to fail at least one course than we would expect given the overall failure rate for the region and the statewide average.

Now that we’ve found Black students have the highest rate of course failures, the Northwest region has the lowest overall failure rate, the Southeast region has the highest failure rate, and programmatic groups are failing at the highest rates in the Central region, we need to investigate what courses Arkansas freshmen are failing. Below are the top ten most failed courses by Arkansas freshmen in 2018-19. We identify core content courses (mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies) with a check mark.

 Failure PercentageCore
Algebra I12.3
Spanish I9.2 
Physical Science9.1
Computer Business Applications8.9 
English 98.8
US History since 18908.4
Family and Consumer Sciences6.4 
Art5.7 
World History since 14505.7
Oral Communications5.1 

Algebra I is the course with the highest failure rate for Arkansas freshmen, and this is consistently true statewide for all years examined. Spanish I is the highest failed non-core course for the 2018-19 group of freshmen, but other non-core courses like Computer Business Applications and Art are often in the highest failed non-core course spot.

Now, it might seem like we have addressed our questions, but not as mathematically confidently as we could. Econometrics has some handy mathematical tools that allow us to account for similarities and differences among the groups of students who share demographic and programmatic characteristics, who have similar prior academic achievement, who complete course work similarly their freshmen year, and who are in similar districts in Arkansas. This helps us find a fairer way to measure the effects of students across the state that aren’t skewed towards differences across regions and districts.

Using a logit regression analysis for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years to account for the differences of students across the state, we find statistically significant results below.

Initially, our Black student group had the highest course failure rate, but they are not necessarily most likely to fail a course their freshman year. After the regression that accounts and controls for differences and similarities,

  • White students are actually 1.5 percentage points more likely to fail a course their freshman year than Black students.
  • Economically disadvantaged students are almost 9 percentage points more likely to fail a course their freshman year compared to more advantaged students.
  • White economically disadvantaged students are 11.2 percentage points more likely to fail than White advantaged students.
  • Among economically disadvantaged students, White students are 4.5 percentage points more likely to fail a course their freshman year than Black students.

Interestingly, among our four program statuses, FRL, GT, ELL, and SPED, three of the four denote a less likely to fail association. Students not receiving special education services are 13.1 percentage points more likely to fail a course their freshman year than students receiving special education services. Students not in the GT program or ELL program are also more likely to fail compared to those who are in the programs. Participation in these three programs and services is associated with a lower likelihood of failure, whereas participation in the FRL program is associated with more likely to fail.

This points us to believe SPED, ELL, and GT students are receiving services and assistance that helps them succeed and pass their courses, but that FRL status students are not getting the support that they need. So, what can we do with this information?

In general, programs that have been found to be effective for helping failing or at-risk freshmen are professional learning communities (PLCs), reviewing student data that focuses on the most at-risk students (lower grades and higher absences), arranging Freshman success meetings, and forming intentional relationships with lower GPA students.

To get to the core of the problem the quickest, Arkansas district leaders should consider enacting a “no-zero” policy or minimum grading policies (Feldman, 2019). When a 0-100 scale is utilized in public schools, the weight of the failing 50 points disproportionately harms students of color, low-income students, and English Language Learners. Feldman (2019) reports schools that implement a minimum grading policy, assigning each letter grade the same amount of points, decreased student failures, reduced grade inflation, and reduced achievement gaps. While this policy recommendation may be uncomfortable for teachers as it challenges the norm and the standard zero grade as a punishment, it is necessary to help eliminate the possibility of grading bias.

Malecki and Demaray (2016) suggest social mentorship programs for FRL students from teachers and principals as a support to help them succeed. Economically disadvantaged students feel more welcomed and like they have a place at school when they have a direct relationship with a mentor.

Overall, since freshmen grades and GPAs are associated with future academic success, and we have concerns that our economically disadvantaged students might not be receiving the supports they need to succeed, we need immediate attention brought to each district on grading policies. Identifying and removing barriers to student success is a step towards helping all Arkansas students experience better academic and social outcomes.

If you are interested in the freshman failure rates for your district, shoot us an email at oep@uark.edu! We would be happy to identify which students in your district are failing and see if we can help you remove barriers to your students’ success. We are presenting this work at the ADE Summit in July, and we hope to see you there!

OEP is Seeking Summer Interns!

In The View from the OEP on April 27, 2022 at 11:45 am

The Office for Education Policy (OEP) at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, is seeking two interested, enthusiastic interns to work on special projects this summer.
Projects include developing policy briefs and/or Arkansas Education Reports (AERs) on relevant education policy topics, as well as participating in educational program evaluation.
OEP specializes in education research and policy to support lawmakers and educators in thoughtful decision-making for PreK-20 education in Arkansas.

Required Qualifications
• Strong writing skills
• Interest in education policy issues
Preferred Qualifications
• Prior research experience
• Experience working with large datasets and statistical software programs
• Interest in pursuing a degree in education policy, preferably the Ph.D. program offered through the Department of Education Reform

Location: Fayetteville, AR (possibility of remote work for qualified applicants)
Compensation: $3,500
Timeframe: Six weeks with a flexible timeline between June 1 and August 31
Housing: We do not provide housing; however, we can assist in finding temporary housing for the summer in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


How to apply: To be considered for this opportunity, please submit a letter of interest and resume by May 11, 2022 to Sarah McKenzie at oep@uark.edu.

2022 “Best” High Schools-

In The View from the OEP on April 27, 2022 at 11:30 am
US Badge

Yesterday, U.S. News & World Report released their annual “Best High Schools” rankings.  These rankings always make the news but here at the OEP, we want to make sure that you understand what the “best” title is based on. U.S. News changed their methodology, so we want to share what we like (and don’t) about the methodology, and examine what we think is a missing indicator of high school success- whether or not students are enrolling in college after graduation.

First, congratulations to those Arkansas high schools that made the list for 2022! Below are the US News Top 10 for Arkansas (for context, we noted the 2020-21 percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch provided in MySchoolInfo, which is used as an indicator of student poverty rates):

  1. Haas Hall Academy (6% FRL)
  2. Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy High (5% FRL)
  3. Bentonville High School (15% FRL)
  4. LISA Academy North High School (51% FRL)
  5. Rogers New Tech (61% FRL)
  6. Greenbrier High (34% FRL)
  7. Fayetteville High (33% FRL)
  8. Bentonville West High School (22% FRL)
  9. Bismarck High (47% FRL)
  10. Maumelle Charter High (21% FRL)

What makes these schools the “Best”?

U.S. News uses a methodology that changed in 2019 which includes six indicators to rank the nation’s high schools.  The indicators are combined to give each high school’s overall score between zero and 100 that represents what percentile position a school is in out of the 17,843 ranked schools across the nation. Listed below, along with how much weight each is given in the overall score calculation, the indicators represent advanced course taking/exam passing, performance on state assessments, and graduation rate.

  • Indicator 1: College Readiness (30% of overall score)  The proportion of a school’s 12th graders that took and passed Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate exams in 2019-20.
  • Indicator 2: State Assessment Proficiency (20% of overall score)  A simple measure of schools’ student performance on state assessments. This measure is a weighted measure of performance, where schools are awarded 1 to 4 points per student depending on their performance on the ACT Aspire math, English Language
  • Indicator 3: State Assessment Performance (20% of overall score)  A measure of how students in a school perform on state assessments compared to how U.S. News predicted a school would score given the demographic characteristics of its students.
  • Indicator 4:  College Curriculum Breadth (10% of overall score) A measure of how many 12th grade students passed multiple AP/IB exams. Earning a qualifying score is weighted three times more than taking.
  • Indicator 5:  Underserved Student Performance (10% of overall score) An evaluation of the difference between how underserved students (black, Hispanic, and low-income) scored on state assessments compared with the average for non-underserved students.
  • Indicator 6:  Graduation Rate (10% of overall score) The proportion of students who entered ninth grade in the 2016-2017 academic year who graduated four years later in 2020.

College Readiness, College Curriculum Breadth, and Graduation Rate are standardized nationally, while state assessment results were standardized within the state. The standardized scores were weighted, summed, and transformed into a percentile.


thumbs up

3 things we like about the U.S. News rankings:

1. Performance on state exams factors in the racial/economic background of the students served by the school.

Schools serving a lower percentage of students who are historically underserved (defined as Black/African-American students, Hispanic/Latin students, and students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) typically have higher test scores than schools serving a higher percentage of students from these groups, but the U.S. News ranking takes that into account.

2. Performance of historically underserved populations is considered.

Students who are historically underserved generally score lower on state assessments than white, Asian, and/or economically advantaged students.  Schools where the equity gap between historically underserved and non-underserved groups is smaller than the state average get higher scores.

3. AP passing rates are considered as well as AP participation.

Under Arkansas’ ESSA plan, the number of students taking an AP class is rewarded, but there is no consideration to how well students perform on the AP tests.  This is particularly important because, unlike students in most other states, Arkansas students do not have to pay to take AP tests, so we can consider the passing rates a more reliable measure of how well the AP content is being taught.

thumbs down3 things we don’t like about the rankings:

1. The data are OLD

The data used by U.S. News for the 2022 rankings are from the 2018-19 school year – nearly two years old and before the pandemic.  We hope that stakeholders will keep that in mind as they search for their school on the “Best” list.

2. Focus is just on College

Only ‘college ready’ indicators are considered.  We would like to see U.S. News including more indices of career readiness, because not everyone wants to go to college and the ‘best’ high schools should meet the learning goals of all of their students.

3. Focus is on Proficiency, not Growth

Here at OEP, we are strong proponents of student-level growth models.  We understand that it is impossible to compare this type of student growth across states because each state uses a different assessment, but we feel it is important to point out that even though they consider the demographics of the students served by the school, Arkansas’ growth model provides better information about how well students are GROWING academically from year to year.


grad cap

Does College-Ready Mean College Going?

With the focus that these rankings place on college-readiness, here at the OEP we felt like a big piece of the success of these schools was not included in the ranking.  We wondered,  “Are students from these ‘Best’ high schools actually going to college?”.

ADE releases the College Going rates for schools through the annual state report card, so we looked up the 2020-21 rates for the top 10 U.S. News schools. As presented in Table 1, between 25% and 76% of graduates from these high schools went on to enroll in college.

Table 1. College Going Rates for top 10 U.S. News High Schools, all students and economically disadvantaged students, 2020-21

SchoolCollege-Going Rate – All Students College-Going Rate – FRL Students
Haas Hall54Not Applicable
NWA Classical4333
Bentonville4023
LISA North5252
Rogers New Tech3630
Greenbrier5733
Fayetteville5230
Bentonville West4030
Bismarck3930
Maumelle4427

Does this seem weird? Only 54% of students from Haas Hall, the “best” high school in Arkansas, went on to college?  Well, the thing about the college going rates reported by ADE is that it only includes students going to college IN ARKANSAS.  Each year, about 5-6% of Arkansas graduates attend schools out of state.  Unfortunately, we don’t have national data including Arkansas students who attend college out of state.

We also want to point out that there are some high schools with much higher college-going rates: Emerson High had the highest rate with 81% of students going on to college, while Oden and Bearden followed with 71% and 70%, respectively. These schools don’t make the top 10 list, however, in part because they are so small that the scores for College Readiness and College Breadth were not calculated because fewer than 10 students were administered at least one AP assessment.

The schools identified as the “Best” in Arkansas in 2022 demonstrate high student achievement and lots of opportunities for college- level work. Students in those advanced classes are successful to the AP/ IB exams, and underrepresented populations seem to be performing better than expected. But the methodology used by U.S. News doesn’t tell us if students are going to college after high school, which is, in our opinion, and overlooked measure of a “Best” high school. Other indicators, such as industry certifications earned, completion of a coherent Career and Technical Education sequence, and employment after high school graduation are also indicators of a high school that is doing a great job to prepare students for their future.

OEP is working to gather information on these other indicators of how well our high schools are preparing students for success after high school. Stay tuned!

Building transitions lead to lower value-added growth for middle-school students

In The View from the OEP on April 6, 2022 at 1:18 pm

Today’s blog is written by Kathryn Barnes, a Graduate Researcher in OEP and former middle school teacher.

Picture this: It’s back to school open house and your student is making a big move from a small elementary school to the middle school. What questions do you think your student will ask the teacher?  in my experience as a former middle school teacher, no student or parent asks questions about curriculum or standardized tests.  Their questions revolve around things like schedules, locker combinations, class sizes, sports, transportation, and school lunches.  Open houses shed light on the idea that when school transitions take place, learning might not be the sole focus of students.

School transitions can present students with an overwhelming number of changes.  It almost seems expected that a transition to a new school building might have an impact on learning.  Educators who work with students during transition grades are cautioned to watch for changes in students learning.  Several studies have been done that show that transition years can negatively impact student achievement, however, no studies examine the effects of a transition years on student growth.  Our study seeks to answer the following question: Do students demonstrate lower academic growth after a transition to a new school building?

Growth vs. Proficiency 

To educators, the debate of growth versus proficiency is just as famous as the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr (only educators are still waiting on a catchy musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda).  The simplest way to describe the difference between the two sounds like a quote from Jerry Garcia:  Proficiency is about the destination while growth is about the journey.

Proficiency: Proficiency is about a reaching level of achievement at a certain point in time. More specifically, proficiency is achievement that is considered “good enough” for that point in time.  Think about end of year standardized tests.  A student is proficient if they are at grade level.

Growth: Growth focuses on learning over time.  There is a greater emphasis placed on how much students learn over the course of the year, rather than what they can demonstrate at the end of the year.  A student who has high growth, but low achievement might not be at grade level but increased their math skills from a 2nd grade level to a 4th grade level in once school year. 

Here at OEP, we love using student growth as a metric for success.  Check out some of our other blog posts on this topic here and here.  

Our Study

In Arkansas, individual school districts make the decision about what grade levels require a transition to a new school building.  The table below shows the number of schools that make transitions at certain grades.  At 7th grade, for example, in 167 schools, students attend a different school building than they did for 6th grade.

Count of Arkansas Schools by Transition Year, 2020-21
3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10th
Transition291972841671812033
Non-Transition456460375270157302190268
Total485479447354324320310301

To examine the difference in grade-level value added growth scores for students who transitioned to a new school compared to students who did not, we used publicly available mathematics and English language arts (ELA) grade-level value-added growth data for grades 3-10. The initial comparisons in grade-level value-added growth scores between transition years and non-transition years for the 2020-21 school year are shown in the graphs below.


After seeing these results graphically, we thought, “Hmmm. I wonder if there is a way to predict the value-added growth scores during a transition year.” Well, thanks to econometrics, there is a way to do this!  Using five years’ worth of data, we ran a regression analysis to predict school grade-level growth scores given specific student characteristics.  We conducted this analysis for the following student populations: White students, Black Students, students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (a proxy for low socioeconomic status), and the combined student population. 

Our analysis returned results that were mostly not statistically significant, which ideally, is the result that we would want to see.  The exception were our results from 6th and 7th grade.  Most of the estimates from 6th and 7th grade over the span of 5 school years were statistically significant.  The results showed that a transition in the 6th and 7th grade is associated with a decrease in value added growth scores compared to students who do not transition.  In layman’s terms, our results tell us that based on past data, student groups who transition upwards to a new school in either the 6th or 7th grade show less growth when compared to 6th and 7th grade students who did not change buildings.  These results are similar for both math and ELA.   This can be concerning because, if you recall from the table earlier, 7th grade is the most common transition year in Arkansas. For more information, please refer to the full paper.   

Moving Forward

Our findings from this study indicate that policymakers and school district leaders should pay special attention to 6th and 7th grade students that experience a building transition. While overall trends do not indicate a substantial difference in value-added growth scores, students in the 6th and 7th grade who transition do show less growth compared to their peers who do not transition.  Based on our findings, we would recommend deploying an age appropriate and research-informed program to be implemented during schools that transition in the 6th or 7th grade that focus on academic and social-emotional health of young adolescents.  Examples of successful programs could provide activities that involve students, parents, teachers, counselors, and staff from the former to the transition school.  The goals of these programs would be to encourage collaboration among school stakeholders such as teachers, students, and families, to encourage school leaders to focus on concerns of middle level transitions, and to create a sustainable program that shows positive results over years.  Policymakers might suggest program evaluations focusing on schools with positive value-added growth scores during transitions to see if best practices can be identified and replicated throughout the state.

2021 School Report Cards for NWA and Pulaski County

In The View from the OEP on March 30, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Today we are pleased to release the 2021 Northwest Arkansas and Pulaski County Education Report Card.  These report cards provide an easy-to-understand overview of how students in the area schools performed in the 2020-21 school year.

The report cards are in a ‘dashboard’ format that makes it easy for educators, school administrators, parents, and policymakers to see how school districts and charter schools are performing. Performance on key measures is broken down by Elementary, Middle, and High School levels and compared to regional and state scores.  For large districts, the report cards also include individual school data, where percentile ranks make the achievement and growth scores easy to interpret.

The Report Cards put district-level information about academic growth, academic achievement, and school quality into a one-page context for quick interpretation. The performance data used in the report card are from the 2020-21 school year, the most recent data available at this time.

These key metrics of school performance are reported by the ADE at the school level in ESSA reports, but we feel they are important to consider from a district level to examine how effectively the school system as a whole is educating students, particularly compared to other districts in the same geographic areas. Information on ACT scores and high school graduation rates, which are important outcomes for students at the end of the K-12 journey, are also included.  To help make the connection between district resources and student success, we also include the district’s student to teacher ratio and amount of money that each district spent per-pupil.


That’s a lot of information!  What is the most important?

We believe that the growth scores are the best indicator that districts are doing what’s really important: helping all students learn. Growth scores are less related to student characteristics than achievement scores, as districts serving fewer At Risk students don’t always have higher growth scores.  The Growth Score indicates how much the district’s students in grades 3-10 improved over time on state assessments in English language arts and mathematics. This score also includes how well non-native speakers are progressing toward English language proficiency.

An average district, where students are growing academically just as predicted, will have a growth score of 80. In some districts, however, students are demonstrated greater increases in their academic performance from 2019 to 2021 than we would have predicted. To have a ‘good’ growth score, to be in the top 25% of schools in the state, elementary schools need a growth score of 83 or higher, middle level schools need a growth score of 82 or higher, and high schools need a growth score of 81 or higher.


How Are NWA Schools Doing?

Overall: Northwest Arkansas students demonstrated greater growth in achievement and earning higher scores on the ACT Aspire than are the students in the state overall. Schools in NWA also have higher School Quality and Student Success scores than other schools across the state.

Academic Growth: Bentonville School District had the highest overall growth score among the traditional districts, and was the only one where students demonstrated high academic growth at all levels: elementary, middle, and high school. Springdale students at the elementary and middle levels demonstrated the greatest academic growth in NWA, and 83% of Springdale schools are in the top 25% of schools in the state for academic growth. Haas Hall Academy students demonstrated the highest growth scores at the high school level. Many NWA districts had high growth at one or two levels, and we recommend they focus on identifying how they are supporting student learning at the schools where students are not demonstrating high growth overall.

Academic Achievement: Haas Hall Academy students received the highest point-in-time achievement in the NWA area, with both NWA Classical (now Founders Classical Academy) and Arkansas Arts Academy joining in outperforming traditional districts in achievement. Bentonville School District had the highest achievement score among the traditional districts, and students at the elementary and middle levels demonstrated the greatest academic achievement in NWA. Since point-in-time achievement is so reflective of student demographics, we want to point out that among NWA districts where more than half of the students are eligible for the free/ reduced lunch program, Gravette and Rogers School Districts reported the highest achievement.

School Quality: Prairie Grove School District had the highest School Quality/ Student Success Indicator Score at the Elementary Level. Gravette School District had the highest Indicator Score at the middle level and Haas Hall Academy had the highest School Quality/ Student Success Indicator Score at the high school level. Like achievement, many aspects of the school quality score are reflective of student demographics, so among NWA districts where more than half of the students are eligible for the free/ reduced lunch program, Hope Academy received the highest school quality score.


How Are Schools in Pulaski County Doing?

Overall: Pulaski County students are demonstrating lower growth in achievement than are the students in the state overall. Students in Pulaski County schools also demonstrated lower academic achievement, School Quality and Student Success scores, and graduation rates than students in the state overall.

Academic Growth: LISA Academy students demonstrated the greatest academic growth overall, with students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels all receiving above average growth scores. Jacksonville and North Little Rock School Districts had the highest overall growth score among the traditional districts, reflecting above average growth at the high school level. Students at Friendship Aspire had the highest growth at the middle level and students at Academics Plus demonstrated the highest growth at the elementary level.

Academic Achievement: Academics Plus also had the highest point-in-time achievement of the Pulaski County area schools. Pulaski County Special School District had the highest achievement score among the traditional districts, overall and across all school levels. Since point-in-time achievement is highly correlated with student demographics, we want to point out that among districts where more than half of the students are eligible for the free/reduced lunch program, LISA Academy reported the highest achievement.

School Quality: Academics Plus also received the highest School Quality/ Student Success Indicator Score overall. Pulaski County Special School District was the highest scoring traditional public school district in School Quality.


What’s the Takeaway?

In both the NWA and Pulaski County region, there are educational settings where students are demonstrating high growth by making larger academic gains than predicted based on their past performance. We want to point out that high academic growth can be found at all different types of schools from Willowbrook Elementary in Bentonville that serve few “at risk” students, to George Elementary in Rogers where 88% of students participate in the free/reduced lunch program and 60% are non-native English speakers. Students demonstrate high academic growth in schools like Haas Hall, which also has high academic achievement, and also districts like Decatur where academic achievement is relatively low.

Here at the OEP, we think growth scores are a meaningful reflection of increased student learning, and that high growth scores can be achieved by any type of school.

  • To have a ‘good’ growth score, to be in the top 25% of schools in the state, Elementary schools need a growth score of 83 or higher, Middle level schools need a growth score of 82 or higher, and High Schools need a growth score of 81 or higher.
  • If your school or district received a growth score of 80, students are demonstrating average growth in their academic performance on the state assessments in English language arts and mathematics.
  • If your school or district received a growth score below 78, students in your school or district are less likely to demonstrate academic growth than in the majority of schools in the state, and you should look for the reason.   Remember that unlike achievement, student characteristics like poverty are not highly related to growth.

If you want to know more about your school’s performance, check out myschoolinfo and type in your school name.  Under the “Reports” tab you can find the “ESSA report” for your school.

We hope that these report cards stimulate meaningful discussion about the educational settings within the communities, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. We invite you to share these report cards with those who are curious about the state of education in Northwest Arkansas or Pulaski County.

For more information about current education issues, check out OEP’s Policy Briefs and Blog.  If you are interested in digging into data, head on over to our website, where you can dive into all of the publicly available data on demographicstest scores, and finances.  The more we can be informed, share the good news, and look for ways to improve, the better Arkansas education will be.

If you would like a printed copy of a report card, please send us an email at oep@uark.edu and let us know which one and where you want it sent!

African American students experience low academic growth

In The View from the OEP on February 2, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Here at OEP, we love Arkansas’ growth scores as we think they are the best measure of how well schools are educating their students. Recently, we have been digging into publicly available school-level growth scores for student racial and programmatic populations. You can read the full policy brief for the details, but we’ll summarize our most important result here. We were surprised to find that African American students, on average, persistently experience lower rates of academic growth in ELA and math than other student populations.

The finding that African American students are, on average, consistently experiencing low growth relative to other students in the state with similar prior test scores is surprising. We would not expect this finding, as, unlike proficiency or achievement rates, growth scores are not strongly correlated with school characteristics such as the percentage of economically disadvantaged students enrolled. We found that growth scores are also not related to class size, or school expenditures.

We limit our racial analysis to Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic students, as these are the groups with the largest enrollment in Arkansas public schools. About 60% of the student population is Caucasian, 20% of students are African-American, and 18% of students are Hispanic. In Figures 1 and 2, we present the average school-level growth scores in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics by racial group for the 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21 school years. Growth scores are not available for the 2019-20 school year due to COVID-related school closures.

Figure 1. Average school-level ELA growth score by race, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.
Figure 2. Average school-level ELA growth score by race, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.

Hispanic students received the highest average school-level growth scores in ELA and math in each of the three years examined, indicating that Hispanic students in Arkansas schools are consistently making above-average growth in measures knowledge and skills from one year to the next. Caucasian students have a score just slightly above the annual average of 80, indicated by the red line. African-American students consistently receive the lowest growth scores in ELA and math compared to Caucasian and Hispanic students. In 2021, African-American students’ growth scores in ELA (77.8) and math (76.8) are statistically significantly lower than Caucasian and Hispanic students’ growth scores.

Further examination by grade level revealed that in all grades in the years examined, African American growth is lower than the annual state average of 80, indicated by the red line. Average school-level ELA and math growth scores for African American students is shown by grade in Figures 3 and 4, respectively. You will notice that in both content areas, growth scores are particularly low in the elementary grades. In addition, in 2021 African American elementary students demonstrated large declines compared to prior grade-level growth. In ELA, 3rd grade growth declined 2 points, while 5th and 6th grade growth declined about 1.5 points. In math, 3rd grade growth was down nearly 5 points and around 2 points in 4th and 5th grades.

Figure 3. Average school-level ELA growth score for African American students, by grade, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.

Figure 4. Average school-level math growth score for African American students, by grade, 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2020-21.

The meager growth rates for African American students are particularly disconcerting, as African American students in Arkansas are less likely than other student groups to meet grade level standards on state assessments. In 2021, only 16.6% of African American students met or exceeded grade level standards in English Language Arts, and only 13.9% met or exceeded grade level standards in mathematics. African American students need to be growing at the fastest rate if they are going to reach grade level targets and have the skills needed to meet their post-secondary goals.

The trend we have identified don’t illuminate why African American students demonstrate lower growth in ELA and math, or why African American students in early elementary grades demonstrated such large declines in average growth in math through COVID, but the data do indicate that the growth of our African American students is an area of significant concern.

There are schools across the state, however, where African American students are demonstrating high levels of academic growth. We identified twelve schools that were consistently in the top 10% of the state for African American students’ growth. These schools ranged from 3% to 59% African American enrollment and from 24% to 70% economically disadvantaged enrollment.

School leaders and concerned stakeholders should examine the school-level growth rates of African American students and consider changes that could increase African American students’ growth and achievement in ELA and math.

You can check out our new data viz that shows school-level growth and achievement scores for student racial and programmatic groups like FRL and English Leaner students in 2017. We hope that you find it interesting and informative, and welcome your feedback about this important topic!

Freshman Grades Pack a Punch!

In The View from the OEP on December 15, 2021 at 11:47 am

As students are wrapping up the semester and teachers are assigning grades, we thought it would be a good time to share our new research about how freshman grades are related to student outcomes. You can read more in the full report or the shorter policy brief, but we will give you an overview here.

A lot of chatter has developed around high school GPAs being more indicative of future educational outcomes when compared to ACT or SAT scores. The thought is that GPAs measure more than just the cognitive skills it takes to show a high-test score—they reflect effort over an entire semester and the willingness to persevere. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research found high school GPAs to be five times stronger at predicting college graduation when compared to ACT scores. Further research found a student’s freshman year to be a pivotal academic point in their careers—freshman GPAs matter to predict a student’s future academic success.

Here at OEP, we conducted a similar study for Arkansas students from 2009-2019. We found freshman GPAs of Arkansas students are very influential even after controlling for student demographic characteristics:

  • A one-point gain in freshman GPA is associated with a six-percentage point increase in the likelihood of graduating high school and
  • A one-point gain in freshman GPA is associated with a 26-percentage point increase in the likelihood of college enrollment.

The thing about freshman GPAs is that they are malleable, and all subsequent high school GPA measures are built upon these first two semesters. Also it is important to understand that grades are subjective!  Individual teachers have wide latitude in the assignment that they give, how much they weight them, and calculating a final grade for a class. We find that freshman GPAs have increased by a half a point overall over the seven years examined, with more substantial increases for some student groups.

Average Freshman GPA by Class and Student Group

As freshman GPAs have increased, so have high school graduation rates with nearly 90% of Arkansas students graduating in four years. In our analytic sample (restricted to first-time freshmen that were still enrolled in twelfth grade) over 96% of the students graduated on time.  Interestingly, although Black students have the lowest freshman GPA, students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch are the least likely to graduate from high school.

High School Graduation Rates by Class and Student Group

Although nearly 90% of Arkansas students graduate high school, less than half of those that do go on to enroll in college the following year.  In our restricted analytic sample of only those students who graduated high school, only 55% of students enroll in college the following fall. There is substantial variation by student group.

College-Going Rates for High School Graduates, by Class and Student Group

You can read our full paper or policy brief for more details, but these findings should not be ignored by Arkansas administration. Not only do freshman GPAs matter for college enrollment and high school graduation, but being an FRL student in Arkansas is associated with the lowest educational outcomes. Students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch have higher freshman GPAs than Black students, but are consistently at the bottom of high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates. To isolate the relationships between student characteristics, freshman GPA, and college-going, we conducted a multivariate regression and present the key findings below.

Multivariate Estimates for College-Going, Class of 2019

Our most important finding reflects how much freshman GPA matters when predicting college enrollment. Raising freshman GPA by one point is associated with a 26 percent increased likelihood of enrolling in college. When we hold freshman GPA constant, we find that Black students have an 11 percentage point greater likelihood of enrolling in college compared to white students. Conversely, FRL eligible students are consistently 15 percentage points less likely to enroll in college as non-FRL students with the same GPA.

So, what can Arkansas leaders do now that we know a student’s freshman year is pivotal in future academic success? The first step is increasing awareness about a student’s freshman year GPA. Informing school districts, teachers, parents and students about the importance of freshman GPA could help lead to better academic outcomes for all students.

Interventions should also be implemented in the state of Arkansas. One research-backed policy is the “no-zero” policy (Grading for Equity, Feldman, 2018). Under this policy, the lowest grade that a student can be assigned is a 50 as the typical 0-100 grading scale is not mathematically fair or an accurate reflection of a student’s learning. Arkansas could also develop and implement a research-driven state-wide early warning indicator system (Consortium on Chicago School Research) that monitors students’ attendance and grades. As the early warning indicator system is implemented, teacher PLC times can be focused on how to reach and help the students who have high absences or lower grades.

To support the long term success of FRL-eligible students, Arkansas teachers and administrators should focus on forming mentor relationships. These students have the highest risk of feeling that they don’t belong, but can develop their potential through a connection with an influential figure at school.

Lastly, college awareness opportunities should be implemented earlier in a student’s high school career. Freshman year is the perfect time for schools to host college and career information sessions for parents, students, and community members to familiarize them with future opportunities for their students. We urge Arkansas leaders and teachers to take action to help freshman students excel while noting the importance and weight of the freshman GPA. Simple measures like enacting a no-zero grading policy and building connections with lower scoring and high-absentee students could help more Arkansas students graduate from high school and enroll in college.

“Beating the Odds” even through COVID

In The View from the OEP on December 1, 2021 at 11:40 am

Today we share our final OEP awards for 2021, and discuss how (and why) our awards are different from the rewards given by the state.

We are so excited to release our “Beating the Odds” Outstanding Educational Performance Awards  for 2021!  These special OEP awards are for schools whose students are demonstrating high academic growth despite serving a population where at least 66% of the students participate in the Free/ Reduced Lunch Program, which is based on low household income.  Schools serving such student populations often struggle to obtain high academic achievement, but schools with high growth scores are helping students reach grade level goals.

Academic growth is less correlated with school poverty rates than achievement and we think it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students. Growth is calculated at the student level, and essentially reflects how much a student has improved his or her score from the prior year compared to what was predicted based on prior achievement history. In the case of 2021 awards, student growth is calculated from the 2019 assessments. Especially this year, with the widespread decline in student achievement scores, growth helps us identify schools where students were learning more than expected, even through COVID. While poverty can negatively impact student success, the schools awarded today demonstrate that their students are “Beating the Odds”  The highlights are below, and you can read the full report here.

The OEP Awards highlight schools in Arkansas based on student growth on the ACT Aspire exams in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). We choose to give OEP Awards based on student growth because we think it is the best indicator of how the school is impacting students’ learning.

Although school-level growth scores are much less related to the percentage of students at a school who are participating in Free/Reduced Lunch than achievement scores, a negative correlation does exist (-0.39).  This means that students at schools serving higher poverty populations are more likely than their peers at more affluent schools to demonstrate less academic growth than predicted. As can be seen in the scatter plot below, schools with higher FRL rates are more likely to receive lower growth scores.

Figure 1. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, Arkansas Public Schools, 2021

If we limit the plot to only those schools with at least 66% of students participating in FRL, as presented in Figure 2, the relationship between poverty and growth decreases. Although all of these schools are serving high poverty populations, there is wide variation in the amount of academic growth that students at the schools are demonstrating.

Figure 2. Combined Content Growth Score by School % FRL, High-Poverty Arkansas Public Schools, 2021

We celebrate the state using this student-level growth model, and are pleased to be able to highlight how students are growing academically in schools across the state.  We hope that drawing attention to this growth information will spark discussions among stakeholders about the ways to ensure that all schools are growing the knowledge of Arkansas’ students.


“Beating the Odds” Elementary Level Schools

The top “Beating the Odds” elementary school overall is Weiner Elementary from Harrisburg School District.  Despite serving a student population that is 67% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, Weiner Elementary students demonstrated the greatest growth in the state on the ACT Aspire out of all schools. Many of these top 10 Beating the Odds schools were also among the high growth elementary schools in the state, regardless of student demographics. The top 10 elementary schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Weiner Elementary, Harrisburg SD (67% FRL)++
  2. George Elementary, Springdale SD (88% FRL)++
  3. John Tyson Elementary, Springdale SD (76% FRL)+++
  4. Monitor Elementary, Springdale SD (83% FRL)++
  5. Green Forest Elementary, Green Forest SD (87% FRL)++++
  6. Wickes Elementary, Cossatot River SD (81% FRL)
  7. King Elementary, Van Buren SD (77% FRL)
  8. Linda Childers Knapp Elementary, Springdale SD (90% FRL)
  9. Salem Elementary, Salem SD (69% FRL)+++
  10. Harp Elementary, Springdale SD (77% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO elementary schools by subject and region in the full report.


“Beating the Odds” Middle Level Schools

Helen Tyson Middle from Springdale School District is the top middle school beating the odds overall. Helen Tyson Middle serves a 6th-7th grade student population where 81% of students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and 35% are English Learners. Helen Tyson Middle was eighth among the high growth middle schools in the state, regardless of student demographics.  The top 10 middle schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Helen Tyson Middle, Springdale SD (81% FRL)+++
  2. Swifton Middle, Jackson Co. SD (71% FRL)++
  3. Cave City Middle, Cave City SD (78% FRL)
  4. Jessieville Middle, Jessieville SD (71% FRL)
  5. Decatur Middle, Decatur SD (81% FRL)
  6. Butterfield Trail Middle, Van Buren SD (68% FRL)++
  7. Nemo Vista Middle, Nemo Vista SD (71% FRL)
  8. Clarksville Middle, Clarksville SD (76% FRL)
  9. Atkins Middle, Atkins SD (68% FRL)++
  10. Star City Middle, Star City SD (72% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO middle schools by subject and region in the full report.


“Beating the Odds” High Schools

The top high school beating the odds is Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg run by the Division of Youth Services School System. Despite serving a student population that is 100% eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, and working to educate students in the juvenile justice system, it is also OEP’s top high growth high school in the state.  Arkansas Consolidated High School students are demonstrating that they can achieve at levels similar to students who come from higher income communities and traditional school settings. The top 10 high schools that are beating the odds are:

  1. Arkansas Consolidated High- Harrisburg, DYS (100% FRL)
  2. Danville High, Danville SD (77% FRL)+++
  3. Kingston High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)
  4. Arkansas Consolidated High- Dermott, DYS (100% FRL)
  5. Horatio High, Horatio SD (77% FRL)
  6. Jasper High, Jasper SD (67% FRL)++
  7. Decatur High, Decatur SD (71% FRL)++
  8. Oark High, Jasper SD (89% FRL)
  9. Highland High, Highland SD (71% FRL)
  10. KIPP Blytheville Collegiate High, KIPP Delta Public Schools (86% FRL)

+ indicates how many years a school was included in the top 10 BTO list since 2017

You can find the top BTO high schools by subject and region in the full report.

Congratulations to all the OEP “Beating the Odds” award winners!  Keep up the great work and we look forward to recognizing you again next year!


How are OEP awards different from the state rewards that were announced in November?

1) Part of the state rewards go to high-achieving schools, where a lot of students scored well on the state tests. These schools tend to serve a lower population of students facing academic risk factors poverty or second language acquisition.

  • OEP only awards schools for growth, because we think that it is a better reflection of how the school is impacting students.

2) The part of the state rewards that are awarded for growth use a different measure than the OEP awards.  The rewards program uses the growth value that also includes the progress being made in English language proficiency, a value called the combined value-added growth score. The difference between the values is inconsistent, with the content growth value higher for some schools and the combined value-added value higher for other schools.

  • OEP awards are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. 

3) The state rewards program for growth includes graduation rate for high schools.

  • OEP awards do not include graduation rate, and are based on improvement in the content areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments only. We agree that graduation is important, but we don’t want to conflate student academic growth with obtaining high school credits.

4) The state rewards program rewards the top 10% of schools overall.

  • OEP awards are grouped by ESSA school level (Elementary, Middle, and High). We know that achievement and growth vary by school level and are concerned that middle schools demonstrating relatively high growth are not being rewarded by the state. In fact, in 2021, no middle schools were recognized in the top 5% growth/grad awards by the state.  See a further discussion here.

The differences between the state rewards program and OEP awards are due to the fact that the state rewards are legislatively mandated, while here at OEP, we created an awards system that supports our passion for highlighting schools where students demonstrate Outstanding Educational Progress!  Oh, and we don’t send money- just paper certificates!